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Grey’s Anatomy TV Drama May be Distorting Public Expectations of Hospital Care

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Study Authored by St. Joseph's Trauma Surgeon

(Phoenix), Arizona, February 20, 2018


The TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has created a false portrayal of the realities of trauma care, potentially leading real-life patients to have unrealistic expectations, according to a new study authored by a trauma surgeon at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in the online journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open. 

It may seem obvious that there is a wide gap between television and reality. But the disconnect is important because it comes at a time when patient satisfaction is an important element in rating hospital quality and in performance-related pay, according to the study.

“The biggest takeaway from this study is that it gives trauma doctors a clearer idea of what a patient might expect from a hospital stay based on what they’ve seen on medical TV dramas,” says Jordan Weinberg, MD, Trauma Medical Director at St. Joseph’s, a Level I Trauma Center and one of the busiest in the Southwest. “It’s important for the public to know that TV medical dramas are great to watch for entertainment but not for education value.”

Dr. Weinberg authored the study titled, “Grey’s Anatomy effect: television portrayal of patients with trauma may cultivate unrealistic patient and family expectations after injury.” 

To measure the difference between TV and real-life trauma care, the authors compared the portrayal of trauma sustained by 290 fictional patients in 269 episodes in the first 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (2)005-16 with actual injuries sustained by 4,812 patients in the 2012 National Trauma Databank.
The death rate was three times higher in Grey’s Anatomy than in real life (2)2 percent to 7 percent, and 71 percent of the TV patients went straight from emergency care to the operating room, compared to only 25 percent of databank patients. On TV, only 6 percent of survivors were transferred to a long-term care facility, compared to 22 percent of actual patients.

Among the seriously injured, half of fictional patients spent less than a week in hospital compared to only 20 percent of real-life patients.

“On TV medical dramas, you only have an hour to explain the episode, so viewers often see a patient either immediately passing away or immediately making a miraculous recovery,” Dr. Weinberg says. “In reality, that’s rarely the case. The TV shows don’t show an accurate description of the recovery period. Recoveries can take a very long time.”

Educating patients on the realities of trauma care is important at a time when hospitals place great weight on patient satisfaction.

“I think the take-home message is more for doctors and nurses, rather than patients,” Dr. Weinberg says. “In addition to providing great care, we as providers want to ensure a positive patient experience. Understanding patients' expectations is key to shaping a positive patient experience.”

Publish date: 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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